Boys and Barrels, and Birddogs, Oh My!
The Last Guardian tells a familiar tale, a tale as nearly old as time. While the fable usually contains a fugitive slave, or shepherd in many cases, paired with a lion, the inspiration within The Last Guardian is immediately apparent. The Shepard and the Lion, which is perhaps the most well known telling of this tale, speaks of a bond between man and beast, gratitude, and extraordinary friendships blooming thus so. Within The Last Guardian, the same cherished quote still surely applies, when edited just so; “This is the beast, a boy’s friend; this is the boy, a beast’s doctor.” This quote holds just as much sentiment, if not even more so. The Last Guardian portrays the beautiful bonding of boy and beast, and their journey of growth together.
An older man reminiscing about his past frames The Last Guardian in flashbacks, recanting the story of his adventure as a boy. He tells the tale of how he was kidnapped under strange circumstances, taken to expansive ruins, and how he came to meet Trico. The following 12-hours spent with The Last Guardian touch on multiple feelings of isolation and dependency, companionship and attachment. All the while, The Last Guardian is frustrating, dated, and ultimately antiquated.
At its core, The Last Guardian is a truly moving tale, chronicling the experiences shared between our nameless boy and Trico. Over the course of the 12-or-so hours, the relationship and bond between the two characters is moving, emotional, and spectacular. The relationship crafted by Fumito Ueda is one that deserves immense praise and applause, and the AI of Trico is a triumph in design. For anyone who has ever owned a pet, the bond with Trico sprouts and blooms and blossoms right in front of your eyes. Trico is cautiously and caustically introduced, and our nameless protagonist must earn Trico’s trust. Like with any pet, this bond isn’t immediate, but a slow and earnest process. The Last Guardian captures this progression with such care and compassion, that you can’t help but to fall in love with Trico as the hours pass. While the narrative is the shining highlight within The Last Guardian, the rest of the important bits aren’t quite up to snuff.
From the second you take control of the nameless boy, The Last Guardian feels true to its roots; it feels like a PlayStation 3 game. Gameplay mechanics should be there to support the narrative, to enhance it, and throughout The Last Guardian, they are a constant distraction. Whether it was the sluggish pull of the often-finicky camera, the general aloofness and rag-dolling of our aforementioned protagonist, or the blasé platforming and puzzles, The Last Guardian found little success in what surrounded the narrative. Mechanics are king, and when they’re off in numerous ways, it’s a jarring experience. One moment, the bond blooming between Trico and the nameless boy enchanted me. Those moments soon passed, it was painfully obvious that I was holding a controller and staring at a TV screen.
While the inclusion of having Trico not always responds to the nameless boy’s commands replicated real life experience with pets, at the end of the day, the execution of said mechanic was atrocious. The real life parallels of training and learning and growing with a pet were apparent, and while those parallels were appreciated, the execution had me entirely frustrated throughout The Last Guardian. Yes, the bond and relationship between Trico and the nameless boy had me fascinated throughout, but a pet-simulator The Last Guardian was not. At the end of the day, The Last Guardian is a video game, and as a video game, it was appalling to trudge through.
This wasn’t restricted to simply to the mechanics and controls of The Last Guardian either, but the overall gameplay as well. While I cannot continue to praise the narrative enough, the gameplay was as just as bland as ever. While platforming and climbing across ruins may have been appealing had The Last Guardian released before 2012, the world of video games has showcased those moments time and time again. We’ve had God of War and Uncharted and Tomb Raider and The Legend of Zelda and Gears of War and numerous other games that have repeated similar gameplay elements, in much more exciting fashions. The Last Guardian didn’t do anything that those games haven’t already done since, and certainly didn’t do anything in more interesting ways. The Last Guardian is as bland as ever when it comes to climbing, exploring, finding barrels, and commanding Trico. While there are a few gorgeous vistas, and a phenomenal last 90-or-so minutes to end The Last Guardian, the rest is painfully ordinary, when it’s not painfully obnoxious.
The Last Guardian had me constantly conflicted throughout my time spent with the game. I cannot, honestly, remember a time that I have been so split between the narrative of a game, and everything else. I loathed playing The Last Guardian, but I was moved by the relationship between Trico and the nameless boy. I couldn’t stand climbing up yet another wall, or being forced to play Ring-Around-The-Rosie with enemies, but I absolutely had to see how the relationship between Trico and the nameless boy was resolved. I didn’t want to finish The Last Guardian, but I had to.
“This is the beast, a boy’s friend; this is the boy, a beast’s doctor.” The Last Guardian contains this sentiment, exponentially so. The Last Guardian contains such a strong narrative, a series of touching moments that bond Trico and the nameless boy together, forever. Unfortunately, everything surrounding the narrative is soaked in mediocrity, splashed with moments of almost-brokenness that is baffling. I’d like to say that I enjoyed The Last Guardian, but when I have to question whether I really enjoyed my time, or it was well spent, well, that’s a problem.